How did we get here? Never in the history of movies has there been a situation like the one surrounding "The Interview," the action comedy scripted by Dan Sterling, directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and starring Rogen and James Franco.
For starters, the flick's visibility is through the roof: Who hasn't heard of the comedy about the assassination of real-life North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that inspired threats of urban terrorism, spurred a devastating hack into Sony's systems, suffered a canceled release, elicited comments from the President of the United States (who publicly wished Sony hadn't bowed to terror) and then wound up with a limited theatrical release after all, paired to a video-on-demand online scheme? In the end, we can all watch "The Interview." The terrorists lose. But do audiences win?
First, the good news. The low-humor high concept -- which seems every bit as marijuana-inspired as Rogen and Goldberg's last collaboration with Franco, "This Is the End" -- arguably one-ups "Inglourious Basterds" for pure audaciousness. Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, producer of a tabloid-gossipy celebrity chat show called "Skylark Tonight." When host Dave Skylark (Franco) discovers he's a personal favorite of the thirty-one-year-old "Supreme Leader" of North Korea (Randall Park of "Veep," cannily unctuous), thick-as-thieves buddies Aaron and Dave make an overture and score a mind-blowing exclusive: a one-hour sit-down in North Korea with the master media manipulator himself.
Just one hitch: the CIA makes its own overture when Lizzy Caplan's Agent Lacey "honeypots" Dave into agreeing to kill Un (think Castro and exploding cigars). The rest is (alternate) history, in a plot that's been unavoidably spoiled by mass news media coverage of the furor over the film. That does undue damage to the movie, the draggy second half of which might have benefited from some narrative tension.
Rogen is in his usual form: You either find his stoner teddy bear demeanor funny, or you don't. It's Franco who does the "high"-wire acting here by throwing himself 1,000 percent into his obnoxious idiot character. At times the in-character riffing and banter with Rogen prove hilarious, but it's hard to forget the mugging moments when Franco stoops to pulling grotesque faces in hopes of making some lame bit land.
"The Interview" comes on with a burst of comic energy, but it wanes much too soon, with some jokes falling spectacularly flat and a distinct feeling of bloat setting in long before the gory, tonally ugly action climax. This undisciplined frat-bro comedy's accumulation of innuendos, boner jokes, gay jokes and jokes that tread through racist and misogynist territory works out to less than the sum of its juvenile parts. All the same, "The Interview" knows it's a (Sky)lark. It's determinedly silly, and for a while, with its appealing comic performers and crazy premise, that's enough. Not for nothing, though: If you buy an online rental ... you might want to change your password.
Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence. One hour, 52 minutes.